Cities beyond the Year 2000 IV: Postscript

(Continuing from previous posts.) Such questions became more pointed when I heard that, in late 2002, a major employer in the West Nipissing region, Weyerhaeuser, closed its container-board plant.  A local newspaper article quoted a Weyerhaeuser spokesperson: “[T]he decision to close the facility is not a reflection on the employees of Sturgeon Falls and their abilities and efforts…  It was made for economic reasons beyond their control.” The spokesperson went on to explain that “the company’s preference would have been to keep all facilities running, but the market changes and current economic conditions forced their hand.”  “If we as a company do not adapt, then we will not survive and none of our employees will have jobs.”  The community sprang into action and threatened lawsuits, but the plant closure was not reversed.

There is more to learn about the community’s response (and for this I am planning a research visit).  In the meantime, discussion with colleagues involved in regional economic development has led me to adjust the local—trans-local contrast.  The translocal side is not only about perspectives or knowledge, but can also encompass resources that could be brought to a locality or withdrawn and withheld from it.  There is room to think about and to explain which aspect of the translocal comes into play—knowledge or resources; contributed or withheld—and how they interact with solidarities forged through working and living together in particular places.

Moreover, there is always room to pay attention to the unevenness of militant particularist loyalties or solidarities. (Aside: although I have emphasized the single tension in Williams’s novels, the theme of internal differentiation within any class or place is just as important.)   When the local scales up to the level of a nation, for example, translocal often corresponds to international financial or military knowledge and resources. Naomi Klein’s (2007) case studies in what she calls disaster capitalism show that, in the space that crises open up, plans gain traction for restructuring economic arrangements through privatization and other favorable conditions for foreign investors, through drastic cuts in government spending, and through elimination of regulation of labor conditions.  The traction always depends on some groups within the nation accommodating and others being disadvantaged or disempowered. Klein shows how this operated: from the military suppression of dissent that accompanied the import of Milton Friedman’s economics into Chile after the 1973 overthrow of the Allende government, through the secret meetings of experts and subsequent State of Siege that paved the way for the economic shock therapy in Bolivia in the mid-1980s, to the economic agreements made by the A.N.C. in South Africa as their leaders focused on avoiding a civil war and negotiating the political path to a post-apartheid democracy.  And, over the last year, we might add, to the massive government bailouts of investment banking corporations.

Although Klein’s macro-political-economic analyses might seem to take us far away from social-environmental engagements in West Nipissing or Wales—or Lowell—, I have ended with them to emphasize that anyone wishing to take seriously the participation of diverse people whose livelihoods are directly dependent on any ecosystem or city has to recognize the ever-present potential for their accounts and engagements to be confounded by what is left outside.  The challenge for the environmental researcher is to work with the tension between the local and the translocal, to contribute—but not to impose—analyses of changes that arise beyond the local region and at larger scales.

References

Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York, Metropolitan Books.

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